Courts Tasmania


(Speech by the Hon Justice Alan Blow OAM, Chief Justice of Tasmania,

27 November 2015)

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to welcome all of you here today. I would especially like to welcome my colleague and friend, the Hon Chris Kourakis, Chief Justice of South Australia, who some time ago was astonished to discover that he was not the first Australian Chief Justice of Greek descent.

I would like to pay respect to the traditional and original owners of the land on which this Court House stands – the Mouheneener people – to pay respect to those who have passed before us, and to acknowledge today's Aboriginal community.

Hobart was established as long ago as 1804.  In fact there are legal practices in Hobart that are older than Melbourne. However there does not appear to be any record of Greek migrants settling in Tasmania until the 1870s. The 1901 census recorded only eight people in Tasmania as having been born in Greece. By 1916 there were Greek cafes in Hobart and Launceston, and Tasmania's Greek community gradually grew in size thereafter, with significant involvement in restaurants and in the fishing industry. The Princess Theatre in Launceston was built by a Greek gentleman named Marinos Lekatsas in 1911. An early form of coffee machine called the Haros Boiler was developed and marketed by George Haros of the Green Gate Sundae Shop in Hobart from 1939 onwards.  Some 13,000 of them are said to have been sold around Australia and overseas. The construction of the first Greek Orthodox Church in Hobart was commenced in 1957.

The eighth Chief Justice of Tasmania, Sir John Morris, was of Greek descent, as his name would suggest. His full name was John Demetrius Morris. It is a great pleasure to welcome Sir John's son, Mr John Morris, a former Chief Magistrate, and his grandson David Morris here today.  I understand you will be hearing from David later.  He is a partner in the Hobart law firm Simmons Wolfhagen, and of course a third generation lawyer.

Sir John's grandfather was Christoforos Moros.  There are a few paragraphs about him and his descendants in a book entitled Australians and Greeks by Hugh Gilchrist. According to the author, Christoforos landed in Melbourne in the 1860s and made for Maryborough in the Victorian goldfields.  He was born on Poros in 1835, the son of a mariner.  He married in Melbourne, migrated to New Zealand, established a boat-hiring business, returned to Melbourne, and set up a business letting out boats for hire on the Yarra, which of course is said by Melbournians to be the world's largest small river.

According to Gilchrist, Christopher Morris – he had Anglicised his name – died a relatively wealthy man, but his estate was plundered by a swindling solicitor.  He had a number of sons, one of whom, Demetrius, referred to elsewhere as James Demetrius, became a senior public servant. Sir John was the son of James Demetrius.

Sir John was born in Melbourne in 1902 and studied at the University of Melbourne (BA 1924; LLB 1924; MA 1926).  He was admitted to the Victorian bar in 1927, but moved to Tasmania, where he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1930.  He became a partner in the firm of Olgivie McKenna & Morris in 1931. That practice still exists, having gone through a number of incarnations as Ogilvie McKenna Wilmshurst & Mills, Ogivlie McKenna, and now the Ogilvie component of Ogilvie Jennings.  Sir John was appointed to the bench as Acting Chief Justice in July 1939.  He was formally appointed as Chief Justice in April 1940, at 37.  He was knighted in 1943 and elevated to KCMG (Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George) in 1952.  He served as Chief Justice until 3 July 1956, when he died at his desk, aged only 53, as a result of a coronary occlusion.

His most famous case was the trial in 1948 of the then Premier, Sir Robert Cosgrove, the father of Justice Henry Cosgrove.  Sir Robert was tried on charges of receiving a bribe as a Member of Parliament, official corruption, and conspiracy.  He was acquitted of all charges by a 10-2 majority verdict. The Court's librarian, Dorothy Shea, has unearthed the minute book in which Sir John's associate recorded the details of the trial.  It appears that he sent the jury out at 3.25pm on a Saturday afternoon, and that they brought in their verdict at 5.30pm.  Before the trial there was a Royal Commission into the bribery allegations. According to an article in the Examiner on 13 November 1947, Sir John refused to agree to a Tasmanian judge serving as the Royal Commissioner. He took the view that, when criminality is alleged, the function of judges is to preside over trials, not make findings in Royal Commissions which are "merely preliminary", and which might make findings inconsistent with a jury's later verdict.  Reed J, of the Supreme Court of South Australia, was subsequently appointed as the Royal Commissioner.

Sir John's contribution to the Tasmanian community was not confined to his work as Chief Justice. He took on vice regal duties as Administrator from time to time. He was instrumental in the establishment of the State Library Board, and of the Adult Education Board, which replaced the Workers' Educational Association.  He was the Chancellor of the University of Tasmania from 1944 until his death. In that role he was criticised for overruling the Professorial Board when it refused to admit a student who had failed to matriculate in mathematics. That student was Christopher Koch, who went on to become one of Tasmanian's leading authors.

A portrait of Sir John was painted in 1950 by the prominent Tasmanian artist Jack Carrington Smith. Very recently the Morris family has offered to make that portrait available to the Court on indefinite loan.  I am very pleased to announce that the judges have agreed to accept that offer, and that the portrait will hang in a corridor in our chambers.

Tasmania now has quite a number of lawyers of Greek descent, many of whom are here this afternoon.  It is therefore very appropriate that the Hellenic Australian Lawyers Association should become active in Tasmania.  I thank the committee of the Association for honouring me with the invitation to serve as the Association's Tasmanian Patron, and in that capacity to launch the Association in Tasmania today.

I will leave it to others to speak about the Association's goals.  I have already stolen enough of other people's thunder.

I congratulate Andrew Panna QC (the National President of the Association), Justice Kyrou, the Association's committee, and the Tasmanian organisers on their achievements in establishing the Association and in relation to its inauguration in Tasmania.

I declare the Hellenic Australian Lawyers Association launched in Tasmania.